One with nature

Huntsville State Park is a great getaway for the day or weekend

Huntsville State Park is an easy weekend getaway. Texas Parks and Wildlife

Houston is a world-class city. We have a burgeoning arts scene, a food culture that surpasses almost every other city in the United States, and neighborhoods that are finally becoming walkable. One thing we don’t have, however, is accessible outdoor activities.

When I moved back to Houston from San Marcos, I never thought about how no longer being a bike ride away from the river would affect me. I can't take a walk that ends with me being completely secluded in a bunch of trees while also somehow still being in a city with a population of 60,000. That’s what I miss most about the Hill Country. Natural beauty. 

I want my daughter to appreciate nature, and the serenity that just getting away from the city can provide. I made it my personal quest to try to get her to every park in Houston. There are, like, 500 parks — and some of them are just green spaces — but we do it. Every weekend, we get on the train and go to Discovery Green, Hermann Park, Emancipation Park. You name it, if it’s in the city we’ve tried to go.

But that’s not enough. Recently been embarking on a new quest. Where can you and the family go within a day's drive of the city? Staying overnight can be a struggle especially with children, so we’ll be focusing on only those places within two to three hours of Houston, though you can turn most of these into a weekend camping trip.

First up: Huntsville State Park.

Huntsville State Park is a great getaway for the day or for an entire weekend. One day this spring, I packed my daughter and a lunch on a whim and we drove up to Huntsville. An hour-and-a-half north of the inner loop, the state park is over 2,000 acres of trails, campsites and lakes.

One of the trails, the Triple C, is 8.5 miles long and takes over four hours to hike. We are novice hikers, and she’s a small child who definitely can’t walk for four hours, so we opted for hiking a group of three trails that all intersect toward the park entrance: the Dogwood, Prairie Branch Loop, and part of the Chinquapin (you can hike this trail by itself for three hours).

We ate lunch at a picnic table at Lake Raven, where you can fish, swim or kayak. For us city folk, the best part of Huntsville is that it is so busy all the time you’re less likely to run into any scary wildlife. The trail map said to watch out for alligators, so we were obviously on guard, but we didn’t see one.

Now, for those of you that are used to hiking and enjoy seeing coyotes, snakes, and alligators, this might actually be a turn off. Another downside of such a busy park is that I just felt like the city had relocated 60 miles north into a wooded area.

We left our house at 11 am, got to Huntsville at about 12:30 pm, ate lunch by the river and hiked until about 3 pm, and were back home before 5 pm. A great day away from the hustle and bustle of the city for the cost of gas and a $5 park entrance fee.  

We’ll be headed back this fall to camp for the weekend.

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Good news for Jose Altuve. Photo by Harry How/Getty Images.

One never knows how things will play out but of the known General Manager candidates, Jim Crane nailed it in hiring Dana Brown out of the Atlanta Braves' organization where he was Vice President of Scouting. The 55-year-old Brown's scouting and development pedigree is stellar. The Braves have been a talent-producing machine in recent years. Obviously all the credit isn't Brown's but his four years with the Braves preceded by a productive pipeline he was part of in Toronto speak highly of him. Not that it was or should have been the guiding principle to Crane's decision-making, but the Astros now have the only African-American General Manager in Major League Baseball (Ken Williams is Executive Vice President of the Chicago White Sox).

Brad Ausmus is a super-smart guy, but if had he gotten the GM gig it would have been in large part because he was teammate besties with Jeff Bagwell. While “It's not what you know it's who you know” plays a role in many, many hires, it would have been a poor rationale for tabbing Ausmus. Maybe Ausmus would have done a great job. Maybe Brown does a lousy job. Brown was the much more strongly credentialed candidate. While Bagwell has moved way up Crane's confidante list, Brown played college baseball with Craig Biggio at Seton Hall.

Speaking of Halls…

If I could tell you as absolute fact that exactly two members of the 2023 Houston Astros will someday make the Baseball Hall of Fame, who are you picking? Jose Altuve isn’t a lock just yet but he is obvious pick number one. So for the second spot are you going with Alex Bregman or Yordan Alvarez? We’ll get back to this a couple of paragraphs down.

As was basically a given, former Astro (and Phillie, Met, Red Sox, and Brave) Billy Wagner was not elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame this week, but as I suggested last week the voting returns were very favorable toward Wagner making the Hall next year, or if not next year in his final year of eligibility on the Baseball Writers Association ballot for the Class of 2025. “Wags” in the Class of ’24 is looking good. Wagner jumped from 51 percent to 68 percent “put him in” votes. The only guy this year to get the necessary 75 percent for election is worthy third baseman Scott Rolen. Two years ago Rolen got 53 percent of the votes needed, last year 63 percent, before getting the call to Cooperstown with 76.5 percent this year. Wagner going from 51 to 68 to 75-plus looks likely. Of course it’s not as if Wagner can pad his case with a good 2023 season, but this is how the process works. The other ballot returnee well positioned to make it next year is former Colorado first baseman Todd Helton. Unlike this year there’s a sure-fire first time ballot guy going in next year. Third baseman Adrian Beltre will undoubtedly wear a Texas Rangers cap on his plaque.

As expected Carlos Beltran didn’t come close to election in his first year of eligibility, but drawing 46 percent of the votes sets him up well to eventually get the Cooperstown call. Beltran was a fabulous player and his Hall credentials are solid. However, no one reasonable would argue that Carlos Beltran was as good or better than Barry Bonds. In his first year of eligibility back in 2013 Bonds garnered 36 percent of the vote. There has been some turnover in the voter pool over the last decade, but it's clear that Beltran’s central role in the Astros’ sign stealing scheme was not held against him to the extent that PED use (actual and/or suspected) was held against Bonds and Roger Clemens. And Alex Rodriguez. And Sammy Sosa. And Manny Ramirez. And others. Foremost right now that’s encouraging for Beltran, but it’s also encouraging down the line for fellow Astros of 2017-18.

What does this mean for Jose Altuve?

If Jose Altuve retired today (perish the thought!) he’d have a good case for the Hall. He had superstar seasons in 2016, 2017, and 2022, and has five other seasons that while not in the realm of his three best certainly rate as excellent. If you judge a player by his five best seasons, there aren’t 10 second basemen in the history of the sport who’d rank ahead of Altuve. Among those who clearly would: Joe Morgan, Rogers Hornsby, Eddie Collins, and Nap Lajoie. Among those four only Morgan played more recently than 1937. Then there’s a group of arguable guys like Jackie Robinson, Ryne Sandberg, Roberto Alomar, and yes Craig Biggio. Altuve has had the prime of a Hall of Famer. What sort of final numbers will he accrue? In late May or early June he should reach the 2000 hit plateau. How many more prime years does Altuve have left before inevitable decline? His career batting average is .307. Four years ago it was .316. Will Altuve retire a .300 hitter?

Bregman or Alvarez? Bregman gets extra points for being an everyday third baseman as opposed to a left fielder-designated hitter, but by age alone Yordan is the better play. Bregman turns 29 on opening day this year. Yordan doesn’t turn 26 until late June. When Bregman was 25 (2019 season) he put up a season more valuable than Alvarez’s tremendous 2022. In the three years since Bregman hasn’t approached that level, though his big second half last season could be a springboard back to that stratosphere. Yordan is in that stratosphere and figures to stay there for a while if his health holds up.

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Stone Cold ‘Stros is the weekly Astro-centric podcast I am part of alongside Brandon Strange and Josh Jordan. On our regular schedule it airs live at 3PM Monday on the SportsMapHouston YouTube channel, is available there for playback at any point, and also becomes available in podcast form at outlets galore. Such as:

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